A few days back, Microsoft announced a new media keyboard designed for the living room. Because of this, it's built a bit differently than a keyboard that you would typically place on a desk, as this piece of hardware is designed for your lap.
The media keyboard rings up the register at $39.95 and is comprised of all plastic, as the keyboard is designed to be durable. In a briefing we had at BUILD 2014 about the device, Microsoft said it was built to withstand the demands of the living room, which includes kids, pets and spills. Knowing this, the design is exactly what you would expect for a device that should be able to stand up to a toddler's terror or a spilled glass of wine.
Across the top of the device are media keys you have come to expect on Microsoft devices such as media controls, Windows 8 action buttons, and three customizable media hotkeys. On the left side of the device is a mouse button and volume controls.
What separates this keyboard from other devices is that the right side of the peripheral features a built-in trackpad. This is a key feature, as it takes your media setup in your living room and reduces it to one peripheral; no longer do you have to go looking for a mouse.
In use, the device fits its niche quite well. While the keys are a bit spongy and the plastic housing leave some room for improvements, for a keyboard designed to be hooked up to a media PC or even your Xbox One, it works well. One caveat with the Xbox setup is that the trackpad will not work with the Xbox One, which is a bit of a downer, but it's a feature Microsoft could likely easily enable in the near future.
One thing that I do love about Microsoft peripherals – and this keyboard is no exception – is that they always have batteries included. Additionally, this keyboard uses a USB dongle to connect to your intended device. While we would love to see a Bluetooth option as well, USB seems to make the most sense as it is more universal than Bluetooth, especially in home theater setups.
On the back of the device are five rubber feet that help keep it planted on hard surfaces. While the keyboard can be used with a traditional PC, we would shy against that – on a desk, it's not the most comfortable keyboard I've used. But, put the device on your lap, and it feels right at home.
The trackpad supports gestures like swiping, scrolling and, of course, pinch-to-zoom. In use, the trackpad is about the same size, if not slightly larger, as a trackpad on a 13-inch notebook and it had no issues picking up our gestures. The trackpad also has left and right click areas as well and the engagement of these buttons feels confident. The volume up/down keys on the far left side are quite stiff; it feels like the pivot point for the rocker is too large and you have to hit the edge of the buttons to get them to engage but this is a small quibble.
One thing to keep and mind – where it's obvious that this is a media keyboard and not a power-user keyboard – is that there is no print screen, end or scroll lock keys. Not a big deal, but something you should be aware of if you are going to buy this peripheral for anything other than a media setup.
For just $39.95 from the Microsoft Store, this media keyboard is a great buy for the price. As long as you need a media keyboard and not a replacement for your desktop, I highly recommend it. The price is right in line with the build quality and feature set, and even though it's not perfect for all scenarios, as a media keyboard, this one gets it right.